I’m no technology whiz by any stretch, but when I worked on Capitol Hill before law school, my boss made me the office systems administrator, responsible for troubleshooting computer and tech issues. Occasionally, I had to call in outside help, but most of the time I relied on that old standby, control-alt-delete, to “fix” my colleague’s computers. Once, when I was in a meeting, a colleague called me back to the office in a panic, because the copier wasn’t working. The problem, which I quickly diagnosed: it wasn’t plugged in.
I bring this up because sometimes, even very smart people like my Capitol Hill colleagues are not so great with technology. The same is true in the government contracting arena. No matter how wonderful a proposal a contractor writes, it does no good if technology problems prevent it from reaching the procuring agency on time. As agencies turn more and more to higher-tech methods for obtaining contractor’s proposals, like the FedConnect system, it is critical that contractors understand how the technology works, as one contractor learned the hard way in a recent GAO bid protest decision.
The GAO’s decision in Onsite OHS, B-406449 (May 30, 2012), involved a Department of Energy solicitation for operational emergency medical support and training services. The solicitation was posted both on FedBizOpps and FedConnect, and instructed offerors to submit their proposals via FedConnect.
For those who are not familiar with the FedConnect system, FedConnect is a centralized web portal where vendors seeking to do business with the government can search for contract opportunities (much like on FedBizOpps), as well as submit proposals directly. The FedConnect tutorial, which is available on the FedConnect website, explains how the system works and how to use it.
As is relevant here, the tutorial explains that FedConnect offers two distinct communication features: a “message center,” for asking questions related to a solicitation, and a “response center” for submitting responses to solicitations. When an offeror submits a proposal through the response center, the offeror should receive a confirmation from FedConnect.
Onsite attempted to submit a proposal in response to the DOE solicitation, but used the message center–not the response center–to send its information. Onsite never received a confirmation message, and FedConnect did not forward its proposal on to the contracting officer with the other proposals submitted to the response center.
Onsite filed a protest with the GAO, arguing that the DOE should have considered its proposal. In its protest, Onsite stated that it had not used FedConnect prior to this procurement, and admitted that it did not review the FedConnect tutorial prior to submitting its proposal through the FedConnect messaging center. Nevertheless, Onsite alleged that it had submitted its proposal “via the FedConnect system,” as called for in the solicitation.
The GAO denied Onsite’s protest. The GAO wrote, “it is incumbent upon the offeror to understand and properly utilize the method of submission specified by the solicitation. Where the protester did not avail itself of the FedConnect tutorial, or otherwise educate itself on the functionality of the FedConnect system, the protester bore the risk of improper use of the system, and of the failure of its proposal to reach the proper place of receipt at the proper time.”
The lesson from the Onsite OHS GAO protest decision is clear. As a government contractor, you may not need to know how to fix a computer crash or repair the copier, but you must take the time to understand how government systems like FedConnect work. Otherwise, the hard work you put into your proposal could disappear in a government contracting version of the Blue Screen of Death.